The Fever by Megan Abbott

Hormone-soaked tale of teenage obsession…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

You spend a long time waiting for life to start – the past year or two filled with all these firsts, everything new and terrifying and significant – and then it does start and you realize it isn’t what you’d expected, or asked for.

the feverIt all starts when Lise has a dramatic and terrifying seizure during class and ends up unconscious and possibly comatose in hospital. As if this wasn’t frightening enough, over the next few days other girls are exhibiting similar symptoms, and soon an atmosphere of panic is running through the town. No-one knows what has caused this outbreak. Could it be the vaccination the girls recently had? Or is it something to do with the poisoned lake at the edge of the town? No-one knows – but Deenie sees that whatever it is seems to be affecting all the girls closest to her, and she’s not the only one who begins to wonder if somehow she’s at the centre of it all…

Megan Abbott’s new thriller takes us again into the world of the older adolescent girl that she used to such great effect in her last novel, Dare Me. Although the plot is entirely different, there are many similarities in terms of her portrayal of this hormone-soaked, angsty world of the teenager, where friendships, jealousies and rivalries mix and overlap with an emotional intensity unique to that age-group.

Deenie and her friends have reached the age where boys and sex are the subjects of their daily obsession. But the girls are also still just young enough to be passionate about their relationships with each other – jealous of each other and jostling for position to keep their place as part of the in-crowd. In Deenie’s crowd, Gabby is the queen, the one everyone wants to be friends with, and until recently Deenie was sure that she was Gabby’s closest confidante. But now witchy Skye seems to have taken her place, and Gabby and Skye seem to have secrets they don’t share with the others. And Lise, always something of an ugly duckling, has suddenly blossomed into a beautiful swan, and her sudden and reciprocated popularity with the boys has brought new layers of tensions and jealousies into the crowd. These tangled relationships and emotions form the backdrop to the story.

Megan Abbott (© Philippe Matsas/Opale)
Megan Abbott
(© Philippe Matsas/Opale)

The book is written in the third-person past tense, mainly from Deenie’s perspective. But we also get to see through the eyes of her father Tom, a teacher at the school, and her older brother Eli, himself still a student there. I found both Deenie and Tom very convincing, but Eli a little less so. I thought Abbott showed well the dichotomy of the older brother who is at the age of viewing all girls through the prism of his raging hormones while feeling outraged when other boys look in the same way at his sister. But I felt that she made Eli seem a bit too involved with his sister and her friends at the expense of his own male friendships, and this didn’t ring true to the age-group for me. I also felt that the girls in this story were not quite as three-dimensional as Abbott has achieved in earlier books – the boy/sex obsession seemed to be not just central but total – the girls seemed to have no other interests in their lives. It works in terms of the plotting but made the girls less real to me than, say, Beth from Dare Me or Lizzie from The End of Everything. I also thought that Abbott’s originality of language felt a bit more stylised in this one – occasionally I found myself wishing for a noun to be left unadorned by an innovative adjective.

The problem with writing two really great books one after the other is that expectations are so high for the next. For me, The Fever is not quite as good as the earlier books, but that still leaves it head and shoulders above most of what’s out there. Without ever crossing the line into the supernatural, Abbott introduces an element of witchiness into the novel that, combined with the growing hysteria and finger-pointing, is reminiscent of The Crucible. As more and more girls are affected, Abbott achieves true tension and a growing atmosphere of dread. So, despite some small weaknesses, I would still highly recommend this to existing Abbott fans or newcomers alike.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

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53 thoughts on “The Fever by Megan Abbott

  1. Glad to have you back, FEF!

    *laughing* Girls are such funny creatures, I think. And boys are so simple. Always messing around. The professor is always messing around. It’s fun to mess around.

    No, I am interested about the seizure thingy. Can’t I have a bit more information? (It was an intriguing review, too, you know.)

    • Thanks, C-W-W! Not that you got much chance to miss me really… 😉

      I agree! Boys really are simple! (Though I’d never be so rude as to say so.) But messing around does sound like fun – how does one start?

      (Intriguing…hmm! I’ll have to try for a stellar later in the week, or at least an awesome…) Well, it turned out the seizure was caused by a violent allergic reaction to top-hats and excessive facial hair. The authorities are still hunting for the perpetrator…

      You’ll be delighted to hear that I think you would hate this and therefore I won’t be adding it to your TBR. Aren’t I kind?

      • I missed your reviews actually. (Never want to miss FEF.)

        *laughs* Yes! Well…the first thing you have to do is be ready to fall in the grass. Can you do that?

        (But isn’t intriguing a good rating?) Aha! Was the professor around, do you suppose? But I still can’t understand why girls would be jealous of my mustache.

        Semi-kind. Only sometimes. Just like Aravis, in fact.

        • Aw, you’re so sweet! (Awwww, you’re SO sweet! *huge smile*)

          (Yes…but these Professorial judgements are finely graded, and I pay attention to the nuances, you know…) At first, you were my chief suspect, especially when the girls described the perpetrator as cute and adorable. But then I realised no-one had mentioned fluffiness, so surmised it couldn’t be you. Unless you were in disguise… Oh, all girls want to grow moustaches, didn’t you know? And beards.

          But more gorgeous… *blushes modestly*

          PS Yes I reckon I could master falling in the grass after a few attempts…but I won’t have to bang my head off trees, will I?

          • I’m wicked, dadblameit!

            (They are graded. And it’s a wonder. Usually better with a book I’d like, I think. Which is cheating, I know.) Hmm…this doesn’t sound right for a warrior. You shouldn’t suspect me. Rats. They do? You’d like a mustache? Oh, I forgot you have one.

            Yes, I bet so. Aravis didn’t have…oh, I won’t say it! See what you get me doing?

            *laughing* You might! I’d say that’s messing around.

            • *laughing* Sweetly wicked!

              (Yes, I think the grading’s better if the book appeals too – a fascinating insight into Professorial preferences…) Oh, it’s OK – I don’t think anyone else has noticed your fluffiness – yet. I’ve grown one as a special tribute to you.

              What? What?? You were going to say ‘moustache’ weren’t you?!?

              Definitely a boy thing then, I think…

            • That’s better, I think.

              (I’ll try to help it a bit. But I am biased, I fear. Oh, just watched John Carter, too. I loved it, but I’m not sure you would. It’s very adventurous.) Fluffiness! Dadblameit. Not even sure what that is! A tribute…well…maybe you should shave it. *laughs lots* No competition, you see.

              No, I wasn’t! I can’t say what I was about to…or…or…I’d be somewhat embarrassed, I fear.

              I was playing badminton the other day with a tennis racket. That was neatio, you know.

            • *smiles sweetly and wickedly*

              (No!! Don’t change! I love your markings!! Did you? Hmm…tempting! Were the graphics good? And did they stick fairly closely to the story?) It’s…indefinable. you’ve either got it or you haven’t – and you have! Like Tommy. What?? Shave it after all the effort it took to grow it?? Why, you ungrateful… *glowers menacingly*

              Ooh, now you know very well that that just makes me even more intrigued, O naughty one…!

              *laughing, chuckling and giggling* I’m speechless with joy!

            • Impossible!

              (Okay, I won’t then!) Well, yes the graphics were excellent. And Carter was funny. It strays a bit from the book. But not too much. I do like Tommy. Well, don’t shave it then! Girls get mad for no reason, and out of nowhere! Yikes.

              I know! Very sorry. Forget it totally. I shouldn’t have said anything.

              My arm is rather sore, but it was great fun. Not the usual type of badminton.

            • For ordinary people, perhaps – but I have special skills…

              (Good!) I might watch it sometime just for fun. *suddenly wonders if the Professor has a pretty pink nose* Haha! Girls get mad because boys…are such boys!! Does that help?

              *delicately sticks tongue out*

              *laughing and laughing* No, it doesn’t sound usual! You should challenge Rafa to a game…

            • I’ll agree with that.

              You’ll probably hate it… *said in a warning voice* I do not have a pink nose! Well, at least, we don’t get mad because girls or girls, or because snakes are snakes!

              *puts fly paper on it*

              I was sorta down a hill too. Birdies come way too fast. Rafa? I’d beat him in badminton! Do you think he’s played that?

            • *smug face*

              Probably – but that can be fun! Aha! So you deny pink, but not pretty, huh? How…sweet! *laughing* I reluctantly admit you have a good point there, Pretty-Nose!

              *thpitth it out and growlth*

              *chuckling madly* Oh, C-W-W! You make me laugh so much! How I wish there was a video of that! I bet he’s never played it with a tennis racquet – he just doesn’t have your…uniqueness!

            • *screams like a pirate* Tis not fair! I denied the whole dadblame thing!

              There were flies on it. You should be up for that cheese now.

              *laughs* Well…my other racket broke. I don’t plan these things, you know, they just happen to me…all the time!

            • Only someone who can circular breathe could achieve that combination… *looks on admiringly*

              *laughing* I’m sorry – I can’t help it! It’s your fault…

  2. I thought this book was okay, but kind of dragged after the mid point to a so-so ending. Her writing style is terrific though. I’ll have to take your recommendations and read her other previous books.

    • Yes, it’s her writing that I really love more than her plots, and her charcaterisation of the young girls is so strong too. The first one I read was The End of Everything and it really blew me away. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

  3. Glad to have you back. Not one for me – I didn’t like books about teenage angst even when I was an angsty (how’s that for an innovative adjective?) teenager myself and I have to deal with too many young people in the real world to want to agonise with them in fiction. Hope you have good chocolate for World Chocolate Day – now that’s a festival our family could really celebrate!

    • Thanks! 🙂 No I don’t think this is one you would enjoy, though you might like her earlier one The End of Everything. Different, younger age group and so not quite as hormonal and angsty…

      How is it everyone knows it’s World Chocolate Day except me?? I didn’t get the memo! Going to have to make an emergency chocolate-purchasing trip…

  4. So glad to have you back, FictionFan! And I’m not surprised that you found this such an excellent read. In my opinion Megan Abbott is truly talented. This was already on my TBR: it now gets moved up on the list…

    • Thanks, Margot! 🙂 Yes, I think she’s a great writer – one of my must-be-read-as-soon-as-it’s-published authors. I’ve still got to find time to backtrack to some of her earlier stuff though – I only came across her about three books ago.

  5. How lovely to see you back, and i hope you have recovered from The Fever of that wonderful men’s final – even if it didn’t feature either of the wonderful men you would have liked to see.

    Anyway…..I didn’t know it was World Chocolate Day either – except, I had a little half surprise party given for me today as a farewell from a group I’ve worked with for some years, and someone made a wonderful chocolate and raspberry cake for our tea-break, and someone else gave me some rather wonderful dark dark chocolate hearts. So, I’m a bit chocc’d out in the day’s honour, really

    I hope you are going to do a FictionFan’s round up of the last two weeks

    • Sadly my fever died down a bit when Rafa disappeared earlier than hoped for – sigh! Oh well – Jock’s quite pretty too…

      Well, I acquired some chocolate supplies while at the supermarket and since I really had to because of the day, they shall be guilt free! Mmm – choclate and raspberry cake sounds yummy…

      Hmm…I’m not sure how interesting it would be. Slept, read, ate, watched tennis about sums it up really…most enjoyable! Some good books though – things are looking up. Now all I have to do is get some reviews written…

  6. I see you pulled yourself out of your Wimbledon absorbtion. 😀

    Hmmm, not tempted. This is why I couldn’t write YA, at least for girls. I don’t think I want to immerse myself in that age again.

    • Yes, the season’s over for another year – I’ll have to find new reasons for posting Rafa pics now…

      It’s odd – she’s always billed as YA and other reviewers think she is. But I’m certain I’d have hated these books when I was in the age group. I always feel they’re for adults looking back…

      • Well, maybe I could give one a try, then. But I wouldn’t put it on the top of the pile. That’s reserved for those “just-can’t-wait-to-read” treats.

        I think you should just have a permanent gallery of rotating Rafa pics on your site. That way, you don’t need a reason. Call it a tribute or some such thing.

        • Oh sorry, I wasn’t really trying to talk you into it – just musing because you reminded me of something I always end up pondering when I read reviews of her books…

          Now there’s an idea! But people would be so mesmerised by his sho(r)ts they might forget to read the reviews…

    • Thanks! And welcome back to you too. 🙂 Yes, The End of Everything would be the one I would recommend to start with – it’s probably the one that has left the most lasting impression on me.

  7. She’s not a writer I’ve come across before but I’ve seen several good reviews for this and I really ought to get back into reading more YA material. Perhaps I should read the earlier books first so that I can get a view of what her trajectory is like.

    • She’s definitely a love/hate author, so I hope you end up in the love camp! Yes as far as I can gather her YA books began with The End of Everything after she had written some adult books. But I always wonder whether they really are YA – they always feel to me like something written for adults about teenagers rather than written for teenagers. It’d be interesting to hear what you make of them…

  8. It kills me when I feel let down by a talented author. when I was young I had a three book deal. I would never read anymore than three books from the same author. I found I was bored with their predictive writing by then. Now I older and wiser (haha as if ) I have extended this number – how could anyone stop at book 3 of Harry Potter.

    • Me too, but she didn’t really let me down with this one – just didn’t blow me away to quite the same extent. Haha! That is a tough rule, but I see the reasoning. I stick with authors I like (unless they really start to bore me), but I try not to read too many of their books too close together. Fortunately my rubbish memory helps…

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